Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable.Romans 12:17 (NLT)
Reciprocity. It’s a fancy word for the well-known phrase, “What goes around comes around.” It means payback – whether it is a good thing or something much more nefarious (another fancy word which means evil intentions). The concept is that if someone does something wrong, or evil, towards you, that you should be permitted to respond in-kind. For example, if someone is spreading rumors about you, then reciprocity dictates that you should spread rumors about them. If someone steals something from you, per reciprocity, you should be able to take from them. Here’s the problem, where does it end?
You see, reciprocity has two sides to it. Therefore, it can just turn into a vicious cycle. Person A spread rumors, therefore Person B spreads rumors about Person A. Person A finds out, so starts spreading even more juicy rumors about Person B. Person B finds out, and takes his rumor-spreading to a whole new level. And on and on it goes. Nobody wins. No good comes out of it. Instead, damage is consistently done to both Person A and Person B until a hatred develops. Once the hatred sets in, the reciprocity only gets worse, because it becomes a game of doing worse and worse things to one another. The hatred grows and grows until it consumes both parties, their friends, and their families. Love is replaced with hate.
The Apostle Paul gives us some great wisdom when it comes to reciprocity – don’t do it. As he states in our verse today, “Never pay back evil with more evil.” In other words, do not respond in-kind when someone does something evil to you. Why? Because it will destroy our character. When we participate in reciprocity, we become more like the enemy, less like Jesus.
Notice how Jesus was the perfect example of how to conduct ourselves. He never had a harsh word for the guards and soldiers who murdered Him. He didn’t curse Judas, (who betrayed Him) or Pilate. He didn’t call down holy fire from Heaven to destroy those who lied about Him and spat in His face. He was honorable – paying back evil with love.
We are called to live honorable lives, as Jesus demonstrated. Payback evil with love. End the cycle of reciprocity. Rise above it.